What Are Alternate Tunings on Guitar?

Explore the world of alternate guitar tunings with our comprehensive guide. Discover the different tunings, the artists who use them, and how they can enhance your sound.

Find out what are alternate tunings on guitar? Dive into the depths of music creation and expand your guitar playing capabilities.


Ever been caught in a rut with your guitar playing? Felt like you’ve hit a wall and your creativity is stuck in standard tuning? You’re not alone. It’s a common plight for guitarists. But fear not! The answer might just be a twist away—welcome to the world of alternate tunings. In this article, we’ll dive into this exciting realm, answering the question on many lips: What are alternate tunings on guitar? But before we get stuck into that, let’s go back to basics.

Standard Tuning: A Brief Overview

Standard tuning is the most common guitar tuning. It’s so prevalent, you might even think it’s the only option. You know, EADGBE – from the thickest string (the 6th string) to the thinnest (the 1st string). It’s a trusty friend, always there, comfortable, and familiar. But it’s not the be-all and end-all.

What are Alternate Tunings on Guitar?

Here we are, the meat of the matter. Alternate tunings on guitar, as the name suggests, are simply any tunings that deviate from the standard tuning. They involve changing the pitch of one or more strings. This may seem like a small tweak, but it can dramatically alter the guitar’s voice, unlocking a myriad of new chord voicings, riffs, and tonal landscapes.

What Are Alternate Tunings on Guitar - guitar player

Why Should You Consider Alternate Tunings?

  • 1. Unleash Creativity: Alternate tunings can be a breath of fresh air, offering new avenues for songwriting and improvisation.
  • 2. Ease of Playing: Some tunings simplify chord shapes, making them easier to play.
  • 3. New Sounds: They can help produce unique tones and resonate frequencies you can’t get from standard tuning.

Delving Into The Alternate Tunings World

1. Open Tunings

Open tunings allow a guitar to produce a chord when strummed open, i.e., without fretting any notes.

a. Open G Tuning (DGDGBD)

It’s popular in blues and rock, think Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones.

b. Open D Tuning (DADF#AD)

Used frequently in folk, blues, and slide guitar.

2. Modal Tunings

Modal tunings are used to evoke specific modes, such as Dorian, Mixolydian, or Lydian.


A versatile tuning used across different music genres, offering an exotic, droning sound.

3. Dropped Tunings

Dropped tunings involve lowering the pitch of one string, typically the 6th.

a. Drop D (DADGBE)

Popular in heavy metal and rock for power chords and heavy riffs.

4. Slack-Key Tunings

Originating from Hawaii, these tunings loosen one or more strings.

a. Taro Patch Tuning (DGDGBD)

It gives a distinct, island-like sound, perfect for fingerstyle guitar.

Famous Artists and Their Preferred Alternate Tunings

Many artists swear by alternate tunings for their unique sound. Some examples are Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Page, and Nick Drake, who’ve extensively used alternate tunings in their compositions.

What Are Alternate Tunings on Guitar - guitar player

How to Approach Alternate Tunings

  1. Start with something familiar like Drop D.
  2. Gradually explore more complex tunings.
  3. Practice frequently to get comfortable.
  4. Experiment and create your own tunings!

What are Alternate Tunings on Guitar? FAQs

  • Q1: Do alternate tunings damage the guitar?
  • A1: Not if done properly. Extreme tunings could potentially strain the guitar neck, so it’s essential to make adjustments mindfully.
  • Q2: Which alternate tuning is easiest for beginners?
  • A2: Drop D is a great starting point as it only involves changing the pitch of one string.
  • Q3: Do I need a special guitar for alternate tunings?
  • A3: Not necessarily. Most guitars can handle alternate tunings, but some are specially designed for it.
  • Q4: How can I learn alternate tunings?
  • A4: There are many online tutorials and resources. Practice, experimentation, and patience are key.
  • Q5: Can alternate tunings improve my playing?
  • A5: Absolutely! They can expand your understanding of the fretboard, improve your ear, and spur creativity.
  • Q6: What are some tips for beginners trying alternate tunings?
  • A6: Start simple, tune slowly, use a good tuner, and don’t be afraid to experiment.
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So, there you have it, an in-depth answer to the question, what are alternate tunings on guitar? Now that you’re armed with knowledge, why not give it a shot? It might feel strange initially, but with patience, you might just find your own unique sound. Remember, music is an ever-evolving landscape, and sometimes, all it takes is a twist of a tuning peg.

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